by Lynn on May 18, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Ntozake Shange
Directed by Djanet Sears
Set and costumes by Astrid Janson
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Choreography by Jasmyn Fyffe and Vivine Scarlett
Composed, arranged, and sound by Suba Sankaran
Cast: Tamara Brown
Karen Glave
Ordena Stephens-Thompson
d’bi.young anitafrica
Akosua Amo-Adem
Evangelia Kambites

A joyful, moving, compelling production of Ntozake Shange’s chorepoem that covers all facets of a black woman’s experiences in her journey through life.

Story and Performance. Ntozake Shange’s 1974 chorepoem illuminates the arc of a black woman’s journey through life, using poetry, prose, music, dance, singing, chanting, finger snapping and other means of making sounds that move the story.

Designer Astrid Janson dresses each woman of this seven women ensemble in a different colour, which when grouped together forms a rainbow (red, yellow, purple, green, blue, orange, indigo) —with an exception, brown is substituted for indigo. The dresses are both form fitting but loose enough to sway, making it easy for each woman to sashay to her own rhythm. And dance. (I must say that Janson’s curved ramp on which the women ascend and descend, often in heels, makes my eyebrows knit. That’s one daring set piece and having them negotiate it in heels is ramping up the challenge.)

To begin their journey these seven women dance, move, shimmy and sashay with a sense of total confidence, command, self-respect, pride and self-worth. At the beginning there is joy, humour, smarts, wisdom and worry-free anticipation of what’s ahead. Until, one day, that confidence changes. A young woman revels in her friendships with several boys, all cousins, all who like her. She goes to a school dance with them. She is joyful until one of the cousins charmingly separates her from the rest and takes her to a car where her world changes.

The other women tell of their euphoria when they meet the man of their dreams, or a man who shows them a good time, initially with respect and expressions of devotion. When it doesn’t work out the women rally around each other for support. The failed love affair is met with disappointment but not defeat. They move forward.

Other relationships with men are forged. The men promise undying love and devotion. The women revel in that too and trust and have faith that this is true. Gradually as each relationship fails, the women’s confidence, security, self-worth begins to chip away. They learn that their men have cheated with other women, some of whom they know. The accompanying singing, chanting and finger snapping that director Djanet Sears has fashioned as signs of solidarity, get softer, more delicate. The women’s support for each other is not in question, but it is now muted. However their embrace for each other is as strong as ever.

The women have learned from painful experience. And then occasionally, the men come back, head bowed, apologetic, swearing their loyalty from now on. And then euphoria happens again, and against their better judgement, trust. The women have faith that this time their man is true and changed.

The last segment of this incredible journey is the most harrowing, (told by the Lady In Red) and while each actress in this vibrant, fine ensemble shines in her own way, d/bi.young anitafrica as the Lady in Red, starts slowly and then goes full throttle with the most gut-wrenching story. In a way she encapsulates all of their journeys.

The journey concludes with the women finding solace in each other. They are now arm in arm and not solitary in a void.

Comment. Djanet Sears and her creative team and notably Suba Sankaran for her evocative music that the ensemble chant, sing and snap to, plus this sterling cast, have created a production full of heart, heart-break, joy and pride. Ntozake Shange has written a beautiful, searing poem about black women’s experience and the result is a production that leaves you breathless and in its way, euphoric.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

Opened: May 11, 2017.
Saw it: May 15, 2017.
Closes: June 3, 2017.
Cast: 7 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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